This page will describe all our hints and tips from first hand experience of trying to avoid (and sometime falling for) all the hidden traps and pitfalls that are stumbled across when travelling around Asia.
This is probably the most important trip or travel you will go on. Asia, in particular is a beautiful place full of sounds and colours and tastes that you will never experience in Europe or North America.
On the other hand, beneath the surface there are a number of pitfalls that await the Western Traveller.
Most people are honest and decent but you should never let your guard down. Don’t go down dark alleys or go out of busy areas to get to somewhere else. Always get a TukTuk or Taxi.
The key is to think how scenarios might play out in your own hometown. Here are some examples:
No one is going to sell you diamonds at cut prices. If it is too cheap to be true it generally is, things are cheap in Asia but not that cheap.
Unless you see a ‘Closed’ Sign and locked fence outside a temple or sight then it is not closed.
Would you go to a different Restaurant or Hotel in London than you intended on the advice of a taxi driver. No you wouldnt, so dont do so in Asia.
If your guidebook or travel agent has not advised on any ‘Special Government Taxes’ or ‘permissions’ then dont agree to pay them. Don’t even follow someone in the street who says they know where you can pay them.
You will be in towns and cities that are spread out. The numbering system on streets will not be coherent. Laneways in particular are hard to find in Cambodia/Vietnam.
Before leaving on your trip check out a map of the area (directions are best). Memorise landmarks or Restaurant / Hotel Chains. This will help you not get lost or allow you to confront drivers if they are taking you long ways or somewhere else.
E.g. If you know your journey from the bus stop to your hotel passes the Ritz Carlton Hotel (You wont be staying there!), a McDonalds Branch and a huge roundabout with a statue on it you can tick these off as you pass them in reality and be more relaxed about it.
Useful things to have in your bag
Dettol is a good brand to buy. You will be eating with your hands in places like India. Everyone carries it and uses it.
Added Bonus: If the smell of certain places gets to you, rub some under your nose!
While most hotels and guesthouses will have this there will be times when you just need to go and you are out and about.
Very useful for Bus journey lunch breaks (Everywhere in Asia), trains in India and some restaurants in Nepal.
Scarf / Pashmina Scarf
Can be used as a;
* Pillow Cover
* Sun blocker
* To cover shoulders in temples
* Sarong for the beach
It gets dark quite early and quickly in Asia and roads are poorly lit.
Some of the inner sanctums of temples in Angor Wat are dark so a torch helps to light them up.
Load Shedding in Nepal and island bungalows in Cambodia mean you wont always have electricity and lights
Added Bonus: If one person (Karen)wants to sleep (i.e. turn the lights out) and another (John) wants to read a book (i.e. he needs light) the torch is the best compromise for both
Bus and Train journeys (especially overnight), busy markets or areas. If there is no room safe.
The tighter the better and if you can get one to fit your passports use it as they are precious.
Padlock / Combi Locks
Same as above, but for bigger items. You cant strap your IPAD to your chest; we tried.
Silk Sleeping Liners
When you dont trust the bed – be it on a train,bus or hotel. Good in Nepal to help keep warm too.
We have the LifeAdventure brand, which includes special anti-bug spray. So far they have done the job…. (Famous Last Words we know!)
Bug spray (50% Deet at least)
Everywhere, all the time!!
Guide to India:
If you need to use a guide book (we recommend it) then the Lonely Planet on the kindle or IPAD is the best option: India book is fecking huge in paper format.
Imodium and Dioralyte will become your 2 new best friends.
Small notes Get and keep change when you get the chance and keep away from main wallet. You dont want to be pulling out wads of cash all the time. The street beggars will be on you in seconds. In Mumbai, they dragged John from a Taxi looking for some money.
Paper and pen for hotel address and most importantly phone number for driver. Most Indians have cell phones and they are much better at talking to hotel staff than you will be.
Most rooms have only 1 socket so a multi travel plug or extension plug for both iPhones and or camera chargers.
Bottled Water (with seal) for brushing teeth. Don’t be tight or trusting if not there, you will regret it.
Travel Journal: Wifi is hit and miss so you will need an offline depository for ideas / notes
Washing line and travel fabric wash. laundry is hit and miss in India. You will notice local women wash clothes in the rivers and then bang the clothes against rocks. They will be your clothes!
IRCTC Online Railway Account: to book trains up to 3 monthes in advance.
The best guide we have found for booking this is from TheManInSeat61 here.
Note you won’t get a seat immediately. You might be on waiting list. 2A is best class for chance to get on train.
Trains are never on time. Most come from far away so if delayed this will snowball.
All train stations have waiting rooms (Segregated by Class) and are much quieter and makes you feel safer than the platforms.
Not all stations have proper notice boards so keep an ear out for your train announcement especially for platform changes.
Bring a picnic for train. You can buy drinks and tea and some inconsistent rice and curries if you want to be brave.
Train toilets may force you to take Imodium before getting on the train.
If your stop is not the last one take a note of the journey stops so as not to miss it. The stations are not very well signposted, and almost invisible at night. Also some trains just about stop moving when they get to a station so prepare to jump off!
If you are lucky and there are fellow passengers who are confident on which stop it is just follow their advice.
Cleartrip.com is best and cheapest option than booking directly with the airline. They Accept western credit cards as well.
Jet2Go and Indigo are best options internally. Air India is ok.
Print off your confirmation as you won’t be allowed into the airport building without it.
Many airlines have common checkin queues so don’t be non-chalent about getting to the airport.
Smaller airports scan all bags on entry so hold off putting rucksacks in covers until after.
Avoid porters telling you of faster queue. As it is for a fee,and once you leave a queue in India you never get back in , only at the back.
Your ticket and hand luggage get a matching stamp by security. Keep the tag on your hand luggage or you won’t be allowed on the flight and will need to run back to security to get another one. John learnt this lesson!
They won’t stop without shouting and banging if your stop is not a bus depot that stops anyways. Be quick to jump if need be.
First 4 rows are ladies only but no signs so to avoid the embarrassing reshuffle sit from middle of bus onwards.
On public buses there are no windows so watch out for sun and beasties
No toilets on most buses. Although they do arrange stops. Just make sure you are back on the bus before it leaves.
You have no where for your rucksacks except a small section under the seat in front or having to hold them.
Some boats are segregated (Male vs Female) but this is obvious from get go.
Most ferries finish 5-6pm. Double check or you will be marooned somewhere.
Always have change. They will claim they don’t.
They will sometimes bring you to shops for commission. If you have time stop at 1 shop but no obligation to buy . If no time make it clear or offer more money to avoid shop stop.
Ask for meter if short enough journey in town.
They may stop suddenly for fuel or driver comfort stop. Don’t be alarmed.
Hold onto bags in back as road bumps will cause them to fall out.
On awful quality roads an auto rickshaw is king.
Allepey to Fort Kochi is a great journey by Auto-Rickshaw. 1 hour along the coast.
When in doubt, naan and steamed rice. Roti of paratha are good too.
Go vegetarian if possible. More choice of restaurants and higher turnover of dishes in kitchen. Do NOT eat salad- John found this out the hard way. The salad is washed in tap water= Delhi Belly!
Thali is the way to go.. Rice, bread, curries for around £1-1.50
Avoid Buffets.overpriced and just sitting there.
Good things are
Aloo Gobi – dry or masala. – potato and cauliflower
Dal lentils in various forms. Dal fry is popular
Paneer (cottage cheese) tikka – very tasty.
Veg Biryani – veg mixed with rice
Parathas – chapatis stuffed with potato, cauliflower, paneer or onion
Butter Chicken – like standard chicken curry.
Aloo plank/ potato and spinach.
In Goa try the fish.
When in doubt about water have soda. We bought water from a small stall outside a tourist site and Karen was sick for 2 full days!
Chai = Tea , Chai Masala = Milky Tea, Chai Garam = Sweet Tea
Mint tea is good and widely sold.
Home stays are best value and most include meal options. Good way to meet nice people.
Hot shower availability might be only during day (solar powered) or at only certain times. Shower when you can not when you want.
Email homestays direct for best deals and availability.
If unsure of place, check room before checking in/ paying.
Have back up places in mind just in case. Don’t feel hopeless.
In North India it gets cold in winter and no one has heating so bring layers. Also silk sleeping liners/ anti mosquito and bed bug have been well used on buses, trains and places were the bed doesn’t look clean or as an extra lawyer.
If you can separate key from keychain cleanly then do so as keychain is used to power the room and fan. If using a card put your Tesco Clubcard in the slot instead if you want a cool room to come back to.
Wifi varies dramatically. If you find somewhere with great wifi get your online tasks done there. Don’t rely on the next place being the same quality.
Woman don’t really expose their legs anywhere except in Goa. Karen bought a few pairs of loose fisherman trousers for £2.50 each. It would be worth packing some 3/4 length trousers or loose 1s h&m have lots. Maxi dresses re also handy.Also no low tops, you have to dress very conservatively. You can pick up clothes v cheap out here. Pashmina is always hand for covering shoulders. Sorry you end up with a perfect t shirt tan.
This might sound daunting but honestly after the shock of the place we grew to love it. We think these tips will help you enjoy it more.